Why The Novel Matters Essay

by D.H. Lawrence (1885 - 1930)

Starting with the essayistic narcissism of meditating on his own writing hand, Lawrence then segues into why he writes novels:  the novelist’s wisdom being the only one, he believes, truly unifying mind and body.

The second half contains, amid Nietzschean aphorisms and Lawrentianjargon, some good sharp humour – comparing philosophers to rabbits defecating their pellets, for example. The prose has explosive force, fighting against Lawrence’s feeling of living in a cultural ‘cul-de-sac’, full of cant and inertia. Anything can be done in a live or dead way, he concludes, and in a novel we can most easily tell the difference.

Related recommendation: Nietzsche’s ‘On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life’ (1874); Lawrence’s ‘Insouciance’ (1928)

Origin: Britain

Themes: Artistic Method, Vocation and Celebrity, The role of Art or Artists, Modernity and Self-consciousness, Anti-Academia

Genres: Sermon or Jeremiad

” Let us learn from the novel. In the novel, the characters can do nothing but live. If they keep on being good, according to pattern, or bad, according to pattern, or even volatile, according to pattern, they cease to live, and the novel falls dead. A character in a novel has got to live, or it is nothing. “

I’ve been recently informed about a Friday brown-bag literary talk group. It’s very informal, put together by some of the “golden girls” at work who have passion for reading. (Who doesn’t if you work with books?) Unlike a book club, there is no book to read. It’s more a forum that spawns discussion of an idea or subject matter. Today’s is D.H. Lawrence, in particular, the essay Why the Novel Matters.

WE have curious ideas of ourselves. We think of ourselves as a body with a spirit in it, or a body with a soul in it, or a body with a mind in it. Mens sana in corpore sano. The years drink up the wine, and at last throw the bottle away, the body, of course, being the bottle.

D.H. Lawrence set the world wondering how wonderful wonder is, and the novel was his primary vehicle. Since Lawrence was a writer, he wanted the novel to be a vehicle for learning. Lawrence embraces a solicitude for life. Life is more than the journey itself, but being alive–touching, feeling, contact awareness; these were what mattered to Lawrence. The novel explores, discusses, creates these moods, and so, believed Lawrence, the novel matters.

At base, Lawrence is defending the novel as a way of combating artistic specialization. He also sees the novel as opposing the division of individuals into job-doers of some sort or other, and opposing as well the division of the entire person into body, soul, and intellect. That argument stems from romanticism, and in particular from Emerson, who (in The Poet) emphasizes authentic individual expression.

Lawrence’s theory implies an internalized kind of inspiration. The novel writer follows no external rules or generic conventions, but instead follows his or her own vital, organic impulses. The novelist writes as “man alive.” What does this mean? It means to write as people come alive. People, he observed, and all things, change, and that causes much undependability and uncertainty in their lives. This adheres to Lawrence’s thought that nothing is absolutely right, because things are ever changeable. But it would be nice if changes could always be favorable. From A. Drake

Now I’m very curious about Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which was banned as pornography when it was first published in 1960.

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Filed under: Non-fiction, Reading | Tagged: D.H. Lawrence, Essay, Reading, Why the Novel Matters |

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